Attachments of the soul

In Buddhism, to die a peaceful death you should be free from excessive or misdirected desire. Having no memory of being dead, I can only say that this also seems to hold true for living a peaceful life.

Still looking at the Butterflies book. Now we have come to the problem with attachment.  It is mentioned in various forms in various religions, and the word usually translated as “attachment” is particularly common in Buddhism. The classical Buddhism does not speak about sin, or at least rarely, although it does have precepts. Instead, its problem is with attachments. People get attached to this and that, and so they don’t make it to Nirvana, the freedom from suffering.

The book now goes into some detail in pointing out that desires are not the problem, and the objects of the desires are not the problem. It is the attachment to having your desire fulfilled that is a problem.

I will just have to take his word for him having desires he does not care whether are fulfilled or not. I am not sure I would have used a word as strong as “desire” about something I don’t really care whether happens or not.  A wish, perhaps. A fancy. A dream. Desire I reserve for things that cause emotion.  And emotion, according to this book, is bad.  Well, nothing is bad, but emotions are to be avoided, so I guess they are bad anyway. You know what I mean.

To take a different teacher, Ryuho Okawa says that our attachments are the things that our mind comes back to when we are at rest during the day. When we don’t think about anything else, if we have an attachment, the mind will be drawn back to that particular thing.

The obvious example would be falling in love. From what I have read about this phenomenon and seen on movies, the person who is in love will think about the other person whenever there is nothing very important going on, and sometimes even then. There is definitely emotion there, lots and lots of it. And the person in love is not relaxed about the outcome, to say the least. Or so I have been told.

On the other hand, Okawa says that love that gives without expecting anything in return is not an attachment, even if you spend time thinking about how to help people. I agree with him, but I am not an expert on Buddhism. I don’t think there is anything compulsive about love that does not expect anything, though, so he is probably right in this.

I don’t know how this works with your children, if any. In classic religions, monks and nuns were assumed to have a better chance of salvation, and not having to worry about the kids was probably a big part of that.  I don’t think there was much gain in the “not having to think about sex” department, at least for the monks. It seems that the only guys who forget about sex are those who have been married a while. But I may be wrong, having never been married.

But I think people who have children tend to worry about them a lot, and this seems to be a mixture of love and attachment. They think about how they can help their children, but they also think about many unnecessary things regarding their children, unrealistic worries and selfish thoughts about how the kids may cause trouble for themselves. (Or quite likely already have caused trouble, kids being kids after all. What is wrong with them that they Just Can’t Listen??)  So it is a very intertwined thing and not easy to find out. I cannot with a straight face give advice about kids anyway.

But some attachment are obvious and obviously negative. Like when you go back and think about injustice that others have done against you. I wrote about that recently, how this can turn people into demons while still alive, making a hell for themselves and those who listen to them. It is not the injustice itself that causes this infernal transformation, but the way people repeat it day by day, cutting the soul wound open again and again until it festers and goes gangrenous.

You already know from experience that your body can heal: I don’t think there is a boy who has not cut or scraped himself or broken or twisted something, usually several times. Yet with the exception of broken bones that are set wrong, you heal with just a small scar. You don’t go around and suffer for the rest of your life because you scraped your knee badly when you were 10.  But there are people who don’t realize that the soul can also heal. They keep suffering for decades because of something that is in the past. You can say that these are like bones set wrong, that grow back in a painful and debilitating way. It may be necessary to break them again to heal properly, and this needs professional assistance.

You may say that these attachments are desires to change the past. That is a crazy desire, of course. We can never change the past. But desires are often crazy. In fact, that is a main problem with them. To desire food when you have not eaten for a while is normal and healthy, and we don’t really talk about that. We talk about desires that bind the soul.

When I was much younger than today, obviously, I did not want Jesus to come back until after Christmas. That was pretty childish, although I was probably not an actual child – we never talked about the return of Jesus in my childhood – but obviously I was still very young.  This is a great example of attachment. The Christmas (probably the receiving of gifts) was the attachment, while the coming of Jesus represents the eternal peace or the heavenly world.

So from a theist point of view, you could say that if there is something we want more than Heaven, it is definitely an attachment.  There had better not be any such things when we die, or we won’t die a peaceful death. But correspondingly, there better not be any such extreme wants while we live, or we won’t live a peaceful life! Now that most humans actually live in countries that are not in war or civil war, it would be a terrible waste to inflict the suffering of unrest upon oneself.

But that’s what we do. And, to quote the standard ending for Norwegian fairy tales: “If they aren’t dead, they are still alive.” So it is also with our attachments, and the useless suffering they bring.